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5 Documentaries About Photography Classics

Color photography pioneer Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky, street photography patriarch Henry Cartier-Bresson, the father of war photojournalism Robert Capa, the most provocative Japanese photo artist Nobuyoshi Araki and Chilean photographers who captured the crimes of the Pinochet dictatorship in five documentary movies you need to know.

Bird in Flight chose 5 documentary movies about photographers in the 20th century who made a significant contribution to photo art or impacted history with their works. These movies will be of use for beginner and established photo reporters; they could be an inspiration for someone to start taking photographs.

The Nation’s Blossom, 2013

This movie tells the story of Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky, one of the founders of color photography and the publisher of the first photo magazine in Russian. Even after 100 years his photographs impress with the abundance of color. Prokudin-Gorsky was the only photographer who captured Russia ‘in natural colors’, and as the movie goes, this is the Russia that the Russians have lost. Prokudin-Gorsky aimed to capture the whole country (the Russian Empire at the time), so he worked in Kyiv and Buxoro, in Central Russia and in Karelia, where he captured the architectural heritage that is now mostly destroyed or rebuilt, provincial towns that are now in ruin, people of different professional, ethnic and regional backgrounds. He has also made a photo portrait of Leo Tolstoy and the photographer of the Imperial Family.

The Nation’s Blossom is made in an uncharacteristic way in terms of documentary film style – it not only retells the biography of Prokudin-Gorsky and shows his works – the creator of the movie, Leonid Parfyonov, travels to places captured by Prokudin-Gorsky and compares ‘then’ and ‘now’, interviews the grandchildren of the artist in France and the professionals who studied and digitalized his negatives.


{“img”:”/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/movie_01.jpg”, “text”:”A frame from The Nation’s Blossom”}

Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Impassioned Eye (Henri Cartier-Bresson — Biographie eines Blicks), 2003

In this movie lecture, made one year before Henri Cartier-Bresson’s death, the 94-year-old French patriarch of street photography and photojournalism shows his black-and-white pictures from 1930-1970s, makes rare comments on them and chooses his favorites, and also shows his drawing and paintings that he made when he was young and in the past 40 years after he put his loyal rangefinder Leica II to rest. Bresson talks about how to become a good photographer, about his muses and his shooting method: he always tried to capture the ‘decisive moment’, when the emotional tension is at its highest. The photographer talks about his imprisonment in a Nazi concentration camp and participation in the French Resistance, shooting Mahatma Gandhi’s funeral and the communists rising to power in China. The story is told to Bach’s music.

Also in this documentary, Bresson’s friends and colleagues share their stories about the master and show his works. The playwright Arthur Miller shows the photo portrait of his wife, Marilyn Monroe, taken not long before her death. Monroe was suffering from serious depression at the time, and Miller thinks that the photographer managed to convey that.

Henri Cartier-Bresson has always tried to stay ‘invisible’ for people he photographed, at the same time he always used only the normal lense (i.e. the one that creates the image close to how the human eye would see it). He rarely cropped pictures and never developed or printed his photographs on his own.


{“img”:”/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/movie_02.jpg”, “text”:”A frame from Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Impassioned Eye”}

Robert Capa: In Love and War, 2003

This is a detailed and comprehensive biography of Robert Capa, the founding father of war journalism and one of the best war photographers. The real name of the photojournalist is Endre Friedmann, he was born to Jewish parents in Hungary and when he was young and lived in Paris he assumed the name Robert Capa and posed as a famous American photographer, so that it would be easier for him to sell his photographs.

Robert Capa was a citizen of the world and went through five wars with the camera in his hands, starting in 1936 with the Spanish Civil War, where he took his famous The Falling Soldier, capturing the militiaman, supporter of the Republic, mortally wounded in the head. This photograph immediately made Capa famous all over the world, and today some researchers claim it was posed. Capa lost his fiancee, also a war photographer, to that war. During WWII, Capa captured the most tragic episode of the Normandy campaign for the Allies, the landing of the Americans on Omaha Beach, taking more than a hundred blurry photographs under the intense fire. Most of them were destroyed due to a printing mistake, and the 11 photographs that survived inspired Steven Spielberg for Saving Private Ryan. The reckless photographer died doing what he loved most – a 40 year-old Capa was capturing one the last battles of the Indochina War when he stepped on a landmine.

The movie includes interviews with Steven Spielberg and Isabella Rossellini, daughter of Ingrid Bergman, who had an intense affair with the photographer after WWII.


{“img”:”/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/movie_03.jpg”, “text”:”A frame from Robert Capa: In Love and War”}

The City of Photographers (La ciudad de los fotógrafos), 2006

At the beginning of 1980s during the early years of general Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, Independent Photographers Guild Association, which included both professional photojournalists and photo enthusiasts, was formed in the capital of the country. For ten years members of the association have been capturing protest meetings that were always dispersed and the violence of the dictatorship towards those with a different point of view, often risking their own lives. These photographs let the whole world know about the crimes of the junta and facilitated the fall of Pinochet regime. The authorities persecuted photographers, many had to leave the country, for instance, the father of the film director Sebastian Moreno.

Moreno claims to have created The City of Photographers to immortalize the bravery of his father and other photographers, which is little known even to the Chileans. This movie raises the question of impact of the person with a camera on history. The movie consists of interviews with photographers, showing their photographs and archive footage of the life in Chile in those days.


{“img”:”/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/movie_04.jpg”, “text”:”A frame from The City of Photographers”}

Arakimentari, 2004

American movie with a peculiar title about the most provocative Japanese photographer and the most prolific photographer in history – Nobuyoshi Araki. In the past 30 years Araki, who is now 75, has mostly been shooting naked women in provocative poses. It is due to these works that he became internationally famous. However, Araki, who published more than 350 photo books, works not only in the nude genre: his camera often catches random passers-by, children, the sky and flowers. Then again, his photographs of flowers are frequently called pornographic, too. Araki’s book Winter Journey, where he captured the last days of his wife who was dying from cancer, was also widely discussed in Japan.

Araki’s prudish motherland often accuses him of pornography, and politically correct Europe and the US accuse him of misogyny, as a lot of his photographs are made in a BDSM style, and women in these pictures are always submissive. At the same time, many art critics and photography lovers think Araki is one of the greatest contemporary photo artists.

Arakimentari introduces Araki’s studio. The controversial photographer talks about where he gets his inspiration, how he persuades women to get undressed for the camera and what other hobbies he has besides photography. The film includes interviews with the famous fans of Araki’s work – director Takeshi Kitano and singer Bjork, who once modeled for Araki.


{“img”:”/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/movie_05.jpg”, “text”:”A frame from Arakmentari”}

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